WHO says game addiction is mental disorder in final disease classification draft

By Sohn Ji-young
  • Published : Jun 19, 2018 - 15:50
  • Updated : Jun 19, 2018 - 17:49

The World Health Organization has recognized game addiction as a mental disorder in its latest version of the revised 11th International Classification of Diseases released Monday, drawing backlash from the gaming industry and medical professionals worldwide, including Korea’s.

Though technically a draft, the ICD-11 in its present state is the final copy that will be considered for official endorsement upon discussion by the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, in May 2019.

The ICD-11 lists “gaming disorder” -- addiction to video games, both online and offline -- as a mental health condition that sits in the same category as substance abuse and gambling addiction.

It describes gaming disorder as a pattern of persistent or recurrent gaming behavior, characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other life interests, and gaming activities and continued gaming despite negative consequences.

The behavior pattern should be severe enough to cause significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational and occupational areas, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms should be evident over a period of at least 12 months for a diagnosis, with permitted flexibility.


The ICD-11 has been igniting controversy since the WHO released a beta draft in December 2017. The addition of gaming disorder as well as its definitions have been criticized for being too vague and scientifically premature.

Critics have posed questions such as: What separates clinically diagnosed gaming disorder patients from passionate gamers who voluntarily play at their leisure? Is it possible to single out gaming disorder as a condition of its own, considering its close association with conditions like depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder?

The WHO has downplayed the concerns. Vladimir Poznyak, a member of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, told CNN that “Millions of gamers around the world, even when it comes to the intense gaming, would never qualify as people suffering from gaming disorder,” as the overall presence of this condition is “very low.”

A representative of the Korea Game Industry Association said Tuesday that the body opposes the WHO’s stance that playing games should be considered a mental disorder, and that it would work to figure out the impact of the ICD-11 on Korea, if it were to be locally adopted.

It is up to individual countries to decide whether to take the ICD’s changes into account when drafting their own disease classifications. But most countries, including Korea, base their domestic guidelines on the ICD’s.

Wi Jong-hyun, president of the Korea Game Society and professor at Chung-Ang University’s School of Business Administration, said the academic association would work to oppose and possibly delay the WHO’s recognition of gaming disorder. An English statement against the WHO is also in the works, he added.

The WHO’s ICD revision is particularly significant for Korea, home to some of the world’s most enthusiastic gamers. It also houses major game companies like Nexon, Netmarble Games, NCSoft and Smilegate that contribute significantly to the country’s content exports.

By Sohn Ji-young (